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Support for the City to River concept growing rapidly

March 2, 2010 Downtown, Planning & Design, Transportation 24 Comments

The groundbreaking for the main span of the new bridge over the Mississippi River was canceled last week because federal officials were unable to get out of Washington D.C. to make the event.  But the contracts are set and work is starting:

The New Mississippi River Bridge is part of a group of roadway improvement projects that will connect I-70 at the I-55/64/70 interchange in East St. Louis to I-70 near Cass Avenue in Missouri. The entire project will cost a total of $670 million and is being funded through a combination of federal and state funds. The New Mississippi River Bridge project is expected to be completed in 2014.

When complete, in just four years, I-70 traffic that is currently routed between the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka The Arch) and downtown St. Louis will now bypass the area to the North.

ABOVE: the depressed lanes between city and river
ABOVE: the "depressed lanes" between city and river

With I-70 traffic being rerouted we are given an rare opportunity to correct a past mistake.  For decades the Arch grounds have been disconnected from the rest of the city.  Many of us now share a common vision to make a better connection and  support is quickly growing:

“Today’s editorial in the St. Louis Post Dispatch calls for big thinking in aligning solutions for transportation and the decades-old challenge of eliminating the barriers between Downtown and the Arch. The Post suggests that the new Mississippi River Bridge is the key: this major public works project is expected to carry a lot of I-70 traffic, potentially making it possible to eliminate the depressed freeway and create a boulevard that would connect Downtown to the Arch. More details about this radical idea are available at www.citytoriver.org.

Before the naysayers get going, thought I would share: this is similar big thinking to what they did in downtown Fort Worth ten years ago. An elevated six-lane freeway divided the southern end of their downtown, cutting the downtown in two, and contributing to blight for more than forty years. When a freeway expansion was proposed by TXDOT in the late 1990’s, downtown leaders rallied around an alternative solution to instead tear down the elevated decks, and build a grand boulevard designed to slow traffic and revitalize the southern end of their downtown. This big idea was very controversial, and it took tremendous political capital, funding and even legal action to accomplish — but it got done, when many said it would never happen. Since the freeway was re-routed and the new Lancaster Boulevard opened there, millions of dollars have been reinvested in adjacent mixed-use properties, and most recently a new $200M convention hotel opened within a block of where the old elevated freeway stood. Similar projects have been undertaken to remove or reroute freeways adversely affecting the downtown experience in cities like San Francisco and Milwaukee; the effects are transformational. Today’s editorial calls for creative solutions and inclusion of this idea of a boulevard as a viable solution in the National Park Service’s Gateway Arch International Design Competition currently underway…..sounds reasonable and worth exploring to me. – Maggie Campbell Partnership for Downtown St. Louis President & CEO March 1, 2010″

Can’t get a much better endorsement than that! Still not convinced? Read on….

Last year MoDOT finally improved the ability to cross over the depressed highway lanes:

ABOVE: revised crossing at Memorial Drive
ABOVE: revised crossing at Memorial Drive

But the ramps and crossings don’t make the experience anymore inviting.

ABOVE: Sidewalk next to the Old Cathedral

The experience of walking along Memorial Drive is anything but memorable, except that you may remember how drab it is.

ABOVE: view looking North along Memorial Drive

Can it get any worse than the above? Why yes, it can.


Just rotate to look to the West and there between the buildings is Busch Stadium. The distance as the crow flies is 960 feet, less than a quarter mile walk.  Before and after the 81 home games per year fans should be walking up and down Memorial Drive and spending time on the Arch grounds.  The nearest route from Busch to the Arch grounds is along Walnut. That requires a walk of 2,570 feet to reach this same spot.  For the new accessible crossing at Market St you’d need to walk 3,250 feet. People will walk a quarter mile but not more than a half mile each way.

Hopefully you will support the effort to remove what never should have been built in the first place!  Many predicted disaster when MoDOT shut down 8 miles of I-64 for two years but we survived.  This can happen. This should happen!

Please support the City to River movement:

With a competition  (FRAMING A MODERN MASTERPIECE: The City + The Arch + The River 2015 international design competition) currently underway now is the time to tell everyone you know about this idea.  Ideally we’d spend the next four years planning the work while the new bridge is being constructed.  When the new bridge opens to carry non-local I-70 traffic then work can begin on removing the old lanes as well as lots of private development on adjacent land.

– Steve Patterson

 

Currently there are "24 comments" on this Article:

  1. RyleyinSTL says:

    The fact that the city basically abandoned the entire river front (save Arch Grounds and North River Front Park) is unparalleled in my experience. Any effort to better connect citizens and visitors back to it is well worth the effort in my opinion.

     
  2. Matt Kastner says:

    One of the big questions I see asked by doubters of this plan, is cost. How much would this set us back? Though I am for the plan, I am curious about those numbers as well. Putting a lid on the depressed section has been talked about for years, but that effort would be moot if 70 was removed. Assuming the money for that project could be pooled into this one, that leaves us with the following:

    (Cost to remove I-70 and rebuild a new Memorial)
    – (Money that was going to be going ta lid)
    – (Money from the sale of developable land reclaimed by removing I-70)
    – (Future additional taxes coming from any new developments along the reclaimed stretch)
    =TOTAL ADDITIONAL COSTS

    Does anyone with more knowledge of this subject have an idea what the actual numbers would be? Civic improvements are great, but there is more to getting this project going that simply making a case of logistics and aesthetics. Practically speaking, budget is the biggest hurdle right now. The stimulus money is all spoken for and there is a general distaste for any brand new spending right now. If this is going to happen in short order, a budgetary case must be made. If a way can be figured out to offset most of the costs of this plan, it would be a lot easier to win people over. Including MODOT and the feds.

     
    • The numbers are being looked at currently.

       
      • Anonymous says:

        The National Park Service is budgeting $300 million to implement improvements under its new General Management Plan. Proponents say the funds will come from both public and private sources, local, state and federal.

        The lid plan is estimated to cost about $110 million. The boulevard plan is about the same or less. For comparison, highway 40/64 was rebuilt for about $50 million per mile. The boulevard project would be similar in cost per mile (x 1.4 miles = $70 million).

        While cost will be a concern for many, the biggest challenge to the City to River plan is overcoming traffic concerns.

         
    • Kevin Barbeau says:

      ” – (Money from the sale of developable land reclaimed by removing I-70)
      – (Future additional taxes coming from any new developments along the reclaimed stretch)”

      I wonder how many current business/building owners west of Memorial (between, say, Chouteau and Washington) would balk at structural development along the newly opened boulevard? Then they wouldn't have their “riverfront” location anymore…

      Hurdles and hoops, galore!

       
      • Matt Kastner says:

        I considered that problem. I think it could be avoided. If an developable land could be reclaimed, the lots wouldn't be all that big. That is going to limit the height of any new buildings. I could envision a row of 3 to 4 story buildings. Since the current view of the river is already blocked, the Arch is the main scenic view. Since all of the new properties would be relatively short, they wouldn't hamper views all that badly.

         
      • Tristan says:

        I think that property owners that back up to any new real estate that might be created, could purchase that parcel and dictate what went in there, if they were concerned.

         
    • ” (Money from the sale of developable land reclaimed by removing I-70)”

      None, as the land would be occupied by the new boulevard.

       
      • Matt Kastner says:

        I disagree. Right now you have an interstate along with Memorial Drive going through that stretch. If you rip all of that out you stand to gain a section the width of the interstate about 1.4 miles long. Not a super wide plot, but big enough to do something. I really have no idea what the net gain in space would be, but there would be some.

         
  3. Brian says:

    If traffic is such a concern, why not a real-life test? Plan a test closure to happen with the opening of the new bridge.

    It's certainly more complex than South Grand, but should be far less worse than closing longer sections of Hwy.40 for about one year.

     
    • We have had a test sorta, the recent weekend closing of I-70 to remove the old Cass overpass. But it ia hard to test what isn't yet built.

       
    • Anon says:

      There isn't time to wait for the new bridge to be built to test the traffic situation. The Arch design competition is deciding this year what to do about reconnecting the Arch grounds to downtown. What is needed is a professional traffic study. That would cost about $25,000. We need a someone civic minded to step and offer to fund such a study.

       
  4. Kevin Barbeau says:

    It's a great (and achievable) goal, in concept and in practice. My question is will this new bridge/traffic plan allow for the removal of some of the raised bypass section of 70 downtown too? In particular the section leading to the depressed lanes and all the way up to (or slightly past) Cass?

    Having worked on the Landing and walked regularly from downtown, I have seen the disconnect for pedestrians just because of the raised bypass. If you're going to re-connect the Arch Grounds to the city, re-connect downtown proper's ENTIRE eastern edge too, please.

    I fully support this effort and promise to go on and on about it to anyone who lucks into discussing it.

     
    • Yes, the idea is to “boulevard” the entire stretch from Cass/new bridge on the North to the PSB on the South. Roughly 1.4 miles in length.

       
    • Anonymous says:

      City to River proposes exactly that: removal of both the depressed and elevated lanes from the Poplar Street Bridge up to the new Mississippi River bridge at Cass. The length of the new boulevard would be just under a mile and a half. It would add maybe five minutes to someone's morning commute. Probably less. But just think of the benefits to downtown!

       
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  6. Illinois commuter says:

    Everyone here is missing the point.  The removal of the stretch of I-70 at the depressed lanes would have a profound impact on the traffic.  I use it daily and have for years.  The new I-70 bridge doesn’t solve anything.  Most of the traffic using that corridor is going north-south or vice versa not continuing across the PSB over to Illinois.  If you really think that the new I-70 bridge solves those problems you are kidding yourself.  Under this logic if you need to go from north to south, you would have to travel over to Illinois using the new bridge, then return back over the PSB crossing the river twice.  Does this make any sense?  Alternately, if you want to go south to north, you would be forced to use the PSB which I never, ever do because of its congestion.  If you remove that stretch you force even more traffic over the Poplar Street Bridge which is already overcrowded.  This region has an appalling lack of useful north-south corridors.  The only two we have are I-270 way to the west and the current depressed section area downtown.  The short-sighted residents saw to it long ago that I-170 would be stopped in its tracks at Highway 40.  If you take away the depressed section, it would get even worse.  There is simply no good way to get frrom south to north in this city.  And all for the sake of the dream of a “boulevard”?  Putting a lid on it is fine, but please leave it alone!

     
  7. Illinois commuter says:

    Everyone here is missing the point.  The removal of the stretch of I-70 at the depressed lanes would have a profound impact on the traffic.  I use it daily and have for years.  The new I-70 bridge doesn’t solve anything.  Most of the traffic using that corridor is going north-south or vice versa not continuing across the PSB over to Illinois.  If you really think that the new I-70 bridge solves those problems you are kidding yourself.  Under this logic if you need to go from north to south, you would have to travel over to Illinois using the new bridge, then return back over the PSB crossing the river twice.  Does this make any sense?  Alternately, if you want to go south to north, you would be forced to use the PSB which I never, ever do because of its congestion.  If you remove that stretch you force even more traffic over the Poplar Street Bridge which is already overcrowded.  This region has an appalling lack of useful north-south corridors.  The only two we have are I-270 way to the west and the current depressed section area downtown.  The short-sighted residents saw to it long ago that I-170 would be stopped in its tracks at Highway 40.  If you take away the depressed section, it would get even worse.  There is simply no good way to get frrom south to north in this city.  And all for the sake of the dream of a “boulevard”?  Putting a lid on it is fine, but please leave it alone!

     
    • JZ71 says:

      While I agree with your basic assumption, some of your justifications are flawed.  Traffic is like water, it finds the path of least resistance (see the closure of Highway 40).  Adding two more lanes across the river in each direction WILL reduce congestion on the PSB, since the new bridge increases overall capacity by 15-20%.  And the real problem with the PSB isn’t the bridge itself, it’s the tight ramps on the Missouri side of the river, where all traffic needs to slow to 15-20 mph. 

      That said, the real question remains the traffic split in the depressed section?  How much is east-west interstate traffic, how much is north-south traffic that just wants to get through downtown?  And how much is traffic originating or ending downtown?  The new bridge will definitely help east-west traffic, as well as helping get people in and out of downtown.  The unanswered question is the north-south component (I’m one of those occasional users).  After a certain point, stoplights will create a major challenge IF traffic volumes are great enough.  But if traffic is below a certain point AND managed correctly, with platoons (bunches of cars) seeing synchronized signals through the corridor, you should have to stop, at most, for only one red light, then continue smoothly (not a big deal).

      Drive 141 in St. Louis County, Broadway and/or Lincoln south of downtown Denver, or 17th Avenue or Montview Boulevard east of downtown Denver and you’ll see examples of boulevards, parkways and one-way couplets (all surface streets) moving large volumes of traffic.  The key component is signal timing, and, unfortunately, the city’s track record with installing AND maintaining synchronized signals here is pretty abysmal.  In my mind, the boulevard concept seems like a viable option IF, IF, IF it’s implemented correctly.  I just have serious doubts about the city getting all the nuances right AND maintaining it long-term, especially since I fully expect MoDOT to wash their hands of any responsibility.

       
  8. Rick says:

    Congestion is good.  High value cities have congestion; low value cities have little.  Measuring your quality of life by whether you can get to work five minutes faster is a pretty low standard.  By comparison, St. Louis has some of the lightest traffic in the country.  We could use a little more traffic congestion, especially in the downtown area.  

     
  9. Rick says:

    Congestion is good.  High value cities have congestion; low value cities have little.  Measuring your quality of life by whether you can get to work five minutes faster is a pretty low standard.  By comparison, St. Louis has some of the lightest traffic in the country.  We could use a little more traffic congestion, especially in the downtown area.  

     
    • JZ71 says:

      Density is good.  High value cities have density, low value cities have little.  Congestion is usually a side effect, an indicator.  Unfortunately, St. Louis has some of the lightest traffic in the country because we have low value, in real estate and as a place to live or work.  We’re losing density because we’ve lost people (over half our population over 50 years) and jobs.  We could use more people, living and working in the city, and congestion, density and prosperity will all follow.

       
  10. Anonymous says:

    Density is good.  High value cities have density, low value cities have little.  Congestion is usually a side effect, an indicator.  Unfortunately, St. Louis has some of the lightest traffic in the country because we have low value, in real estate and as a place to live or work.  We’re losing density because we’ve lost people (over half our population over 50 years) and jobs.  We could use more people, living and working in the city, and congestion, density and prosperity will all follow.

     
  11. Anonymous says:

    While I agree with your basic assumption, some of your justifications are flawed.  Traffic is like water, it finds the path of least resistance (see the closure of Highway 40).  Adding two more lanes across the river in each direction WILL reduce congestion on the PSB, since the new bridge increases overall capacity by 15-20%.  And the real problem with the PSB isn’t the bridge itself, it’s the tight ramps on the Missouri side of the river, where all traffic needs to slow to 15-20 mph. 

    That said, the real question remains the traffic split in the depressed section?  How much is east-west interstate traffic, how much is north-south traffic that just wants to get through downtown?  And how much is traffic originating or ending downtown?  The new bridge will definitely help east-west traffic, as well as helping get people in and out of downtown.  The unanswered question is the north-south component (I’m one of those occasional users).  After a certain point, stoplights will create a major challenge IF traffic volumes are great enough.  But if traffic is below a certain point AND managed correctly, with platoons (bunches of cars) seeing synchronized signals through the corridor, you should have to stop, at most, for only one red light, then continue smoothly (not a big deal).

    Drive 141 in St. Louis County, Broadway and/or Lincoln south of downtown Denver, or 17th Avenue or Montview Boulevard east of downtown Denver and you’ll see examples of boulevards, parkways and one-way couplets (all surface streets) moving large volumes of traffic.  The key component is signal timing, and, unfortunately, the city’s track record with installing AND maintaining synchronized signals here is pretty abysmal.  In my mind, the boulevard concept seems like a viable option IF, IF, IF it’s implemented correctly.  I just have serious doubts about the city getting all the nuances right AND maintaining it long-term, especially since I fully expect MoDOT to wash their hands of any responsibility.

     

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